Praying for Time?

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
Because god stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all god’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say “what’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because god stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you

That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

-Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou

Despite the title and the inclusion of the lyrics to one of many wonderful songs written by an amazing human, this post isn’t about the gut-punch of a loss that hit us all on Xmas day. I could write – at length – about all the specific moments and memories he contributed to my life: like the time that my BFF (looking at you, JJB) and I stood in line to get tickets to the Wham! show at Exhibition Stadium – something that was allowed only if we agreed to take my little sisters along with us – and about how amazing that show turned out to be; or about the dubious decision to teach an unruly bunch of 13-year-old campers the words to I Want Your Sex as we walked to the Tuck Shop to pick up enough sugar to see us through our out-supper (in defence of 18-year-old me, they already knew the song – they just had most of the lyrics wrong – and misheard lyrics are a crime against all that is sacred. It was my duty to make sure they were corrected); or about the true strength and comfort that radiated from his version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John!”) as I drove back-and-forth between Ottawa and Toronto, looking for a place to live – a place to re-start – as I put a terrible break-up behind me, and began looking for new beginnings and the healing of myriad heart-deep cuts.

But this post isn’t about George Michael.

2016 saw too many commentaries – by me and by others – that celebrated and mourned a seemingly inordinate number of precious people. Others have spoken about the generosity of spirit and unwavering belief in his fellow humans that George exemplified in all that he did. How his talent often went unrecognized – he was dismissed as a pretty-boy, depth-less popster for far too long – when his songs (if you take the time to really listen to them), sung in that peerless voice, demonstrated an understanding of the best and the worst of the ways we human beings interact with one another and our world(s).

So that’s not what this is about.

Take it as a given that I loved him. And that I feel like the loss of him – and the rest of those who slipped away from us last year – couldn’t come at worse time. Truly. We need those lost voices more than ever – as we enter a new year faced with uncertainty and newly-mandated hatred and ignorance.

For the last couple of days, as the iPod shuffles through songs to keep me occupied on the TTC, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. (I do that when I’m unsettled – I look for patterns. And often find them – even if a bit of stretching is required. I like the order inherent in patterns. I’m all for order – unless disorder is required…). A lot of the songs in my collection, including the one that prompted this post, have something to say about time.

Needing more time, wasting time, time healing wounds… that last one is sort of what George was going for as he attempted to sort through the social injustice, hypocrisy and hatred he was seeing made manifest all around him in 1990.

Plus ça change, and all that.

After giving it some thought, though, I’m going to have to respectfully beg to differ when it comes to the idea that that might be the best approach. I’m reallyreally tired of all the ‘wait and see’, ‘ride it out’, ‘this too shall pass’ that is floating around out there right now.

It’s time, folks, to stop the freakin’ apocalypse.

I spend a whole lot of time thinking about – and reading and writing and teaching about – apocalypses, specifically those bodies of literature that deal with the end of one time and offering a forecast of what might follow. They were the primary focus of more than two decades of my adult life, and they are a hard habit to break.

Whether or not we are aware, the apocalyptic worldview is something we, in Toronto, in Canada, in the Western World, live with constantly.  We internalize apocalyptic metaphors as they are revealed throughout our social context.

We are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, we have certain steps that need to be taken. If we want a career in law, we attend law school in preparation. Then intern with established firms, take and pass the Bar, and start at the bottom with an expectation that we will move onto better things, once these mandated steps have been achieved.

We tell young people that they will not get ahead unless they have a university/college degree. As a result, the degrees are treated as means to increasingly-nebulous ends, rather than appreciated for the experience that they can bring into an enhanced life.

Thanks to the influence of biblical religions on our societies, we are all culturally predisposed to be driven by what comes next.

This propensity creeps into our language in a pretty constant and almost subliminal way. How often have you counted down the hours until the end of a day, the days until the weekend, or the weeks until vacation?

It’s part of our vernacular – our language and the way we communicate – to do so. Heck, there’s a US restaurant chain that’s named after this way of thinking (TGIFridays).

I do it when a day isn’t going as I might like, even when I should know better. I’m as guilty of watching the clock as the next person. When periods of work get intense – with deadlines looming – I reassure myself that if I just get through this task or this period of time then all will be well. And then I reward myself for reaching that milestone.

I work, essentially, as a cog in the machine of bureaucracy – driven by deadlines that are imposed by project managers who have no context and no interest in seeing beyond a ‘go live’ date that removes them from all responsibility for the ongoing operation of the project-at-hand. Project development decisions are made in accordance with siloed mandates, and thought out only until they become operational. After that event, the maintenance of the project is no longer the concern of those who were designated as the implementers of the plan. The ‘go live’ is the thing. Our workdays revolve around the timelines of PMs who just want to get the thing done so they no longer need to think about it and can move on to the next project.

I function, daily, within this paradigm. It’s how I make a living, how I pay the mortgage, and (hopefully) save enough money that I can look forward to time away (temporarily – to my next vacation, and to the hope of eventual permanence – as a retiree) from contributing to the perpetual motion of the hamster wheel of government.

As human as this inclination to look with hope toward the future may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglect to acknowledge the importance of the moment in which we are, right now, living.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better, more hopeful scenario at a future date.

How passive is that? Ick. That does not sit well with me.

Especially when you consider that, in historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status-changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality (I suggest a recent example: the POTUS-elect actually, beyond all that is reasonable, getting elected). The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness. Provided you do the things that are mandated and follow the right order of things. No speaking out against the rules and regs or anything remotely rebellious in nature is permitted. Wait. Now wait a little longer, and the god will set things to rights. Just keep on doing what you were doing. Eventually the winds will shift in your direction.

Puh-lease.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments – even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities – and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.

And that makes me want to bite something.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, promotes complacent acceptance of the status quo, and ignores the lessons of the past in favour of a better tomorrow that might come along at some point in the future. If you let the god/leader/narcissistic reality tv star do what s/he’s going to do.

Don’t get me wrong- it can be a very useful coping mechanism- when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique- “let’s get over this hump and then things will quiet down”. We’re all experiencing varying degrees of this kind of anxiety now – what with a sociopathic ignoramus untested and radically divisive individual about to be sworn in as POTUS. We are conditioned, by our myths and cultures, to think that we NEED, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

At its most extreme, we get so caught up in thoughts of the future – and how it has to be better than the stress/boredom/suffering – that we are currently experiencing – that we lose the experience of right now – and miss the both potential enjoyment that might be found in all those passing moments and, perhaps even more importantly, the occasions through which we can work to affect change. We waste countless opportunities that can be found in our immediate reality as we wait for a projected reckoning at which time all will be set to rights.

So, how do we overcome a narrative that is a hidden but ever-present part of our way of looking at the world? How do we stop thinking apocalyptically?

Popular culture loves a good apocalypse (as I said, the BEST stories) – and it has transformed the way we think about them. In most of the narratives that deal with apocalyptic considerations these days, the world as we know it ends, one way or another, and things get even worse after the fact.

Zombies and aliens dominate our tv, computer and movie screens. Through all these imagined outcomes we can see that the paradigm behind the narrative has changed. The end result of that event that changes everything is dystopic – and punishing to all those who felt the disconnect with expectations and assumptions and held out hope after hope that the future would offer succor for the suffering. Regardless of what they did or didn’t do before the eschaton happened.

Way to shatter illusions, Hollywood.

What they’re saying is that we’re damned, regardless of what we might do and what form the end of days might take. No action we take or role we play will affect the outcome of the apocalypse – and what comes after.

As a philosophy, that really sucks. But it does point out that eschatology has its vagaries. You can’t count on apocaplypses to work out the way you wanted – they, like the gods who deliver them, are capricious by nature.

As we begin 2017 we need to acknowledge that being singularly and constantly focused on the unknowns that the future might hold is counter-productive to living our lives with investment in our current situations. We can certainly look forward to future ‘better things’ (I reallyreally hope to get to Scotland again this year – something that would be better than going to work every day) – but we must do so without squandering the experiences of the present.

Popular culture has already changed the narrative from what it was in biblical times – (although there are still those people – waaaay too many people in a supposedly-educated population – who hold fast to versions of us/them righteousness triumphing over evil) the world ends, but the external salvation/rewards aren’t forthcoming. So the world ends, people adjust and keep moving forward as best they can. And deal with the new challenges with all the tools they can bring to bear. Cross-bows, come to mind.

But how’s about we do all that without waiting for the end-game event as a spur to action? Isn’t that a better use of our time than waiting around for a catalyst that forces us to do something?

We do have time.

Lots of it. Enough of it that we tend to waste it – focusing on issues of irrelevance or binge-watching television programs about zombie apocalypses – and then lament that it is gone.

We need to take what time we have – and the amount varies from person-to-person – to invest in what is happening right now and acknowledge and overcome the defeatist rhetoric that says that better things will come if we just wait it out.

Better things won’t come unless we actively seek to create them. Complacency and unmerited hope isn’t an option. Patience, in this case, is not a virtue.

Arguably we have seen events (the US election is but one symptom of the ass-backward direction that a number of people seem determined to take) that might be seen as cataclysmic. Is it hyberbolic to assert that Trump – and those he is bringing to his ‘leadership’ table – is a disaster of historic proportions? I’m not sure that it is. Underestimating the severity of this situation is not an a risk-appropriate option as things stand.

Rather than waiting for any further apocalyptic happenings – and the changes they might bring, for better or worse – we need to look to our past and follow the example of those who came before us, when they faced injustice and inequity . There are LOTS of great examples. We can mobilize, agitate, and use our voices to speak passionately (like Ms. Meryl did the other night) against those who seek to further their agendas at the expense of freedoms and truths.

What happened in the US in November is wrong. How it can be permitted to stand is demonstrative of systemic issues that lie well beyond my ken (wasn’t the Electoral College created to prevent the rise of demagogues to the highest office in the land?). What has followed clearly demonstrates the need to wake up and affect our current reality through the use of words, action and activism. Wishing for time – to (hopefully) ride out this storm – moves us nowhere, except towards the infamy of nativism, racism, xenophobia and sexism that we see in daily tweets from the next leader of the Free World.

To be sure, there are disparities between our expectations and societal realities. My expectation was that no one in their collective, national right minds would even come close to electing that guy. That isn’t something that’s new. But doing nothing more than placing hope in a future that will prove salvific and redemptive for those who have to endure the imbalance is an abrogation of responsibility and morality.

Returning to those things that belong in the past – ignorance and ‘legitimate excuses’, as examples – is not an acceptable response to the anomie, discontent and disconnect that so many are feeling in the here-and-now of 2017. That there are those who think that waiting for a Judgement Day – which will redress the varied imbalances felt by a diversity of people – is the best course of action, lends itself to some level of understanding about how we got here. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also hard to let go of a closely-held and precious delusion that confirms that we will be vindicated and rewarded, if we suffer long enough.

Understanding – and even empathizing with – the place from where that ideology hails doesn’t mean we should sit by and watch the apocalypse play out without our participation. That’s what people like the POTUS-elect want you to do – sit idly by as he and his cronies run roughshod over freedoms and human rights.

Apocalyptic narratives support his positions – and the promises he made (we’re seeing some of those promises broken already – and he isn’t yet in office). We can’t ‘wait and see’. The course is set – but it can be diverted, if we take hold of a narrative that speaks to something other than a linear rush to fruition – if you are one of the ‘chosen people’.

Praying for time? Hanging on to hope in the face of hopelessness? All due respect to our dearly departed, but these things cannot be the answer.

But he also wrote this:

I believe in the gods of America
I believe in the land of the free
But no one told me
That the gods believe in nothing
So with empty hands I pray
And from day to hopeless day
They still don’t see me

Instead of placing hope in false gods and demagogues – who don’t believe in us – let’s give them a run for their money and show them that we aren’t going to wait and see any longer. The system needs a shock – that is one positive take-away from the recent crisis – and we need to be the ones to stand and deliver that shock.

A good way to begin? Set aside childish things – including anachronistic biblical metaphors. Together we have the power to stop the apocalypse and, instead, spend our time doing the work that will bring a future that benefits humanity as a whole.

It’s what George would have wanted.

 

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‘Warm Impermanence’

‘We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise, I spoke into his eyes…’

When I woke up, unsettled, at 4am yesterday morning (funny that it’s always https://colemining.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/4am-in-the-morning/), I figured it was symptomatic of the return of the recurrent insomnia and/or bad sleeping patterns that plague me from time-to-time. Finally falling back to sleep- to an odd dream in which I dyed my hair myriad colours (definitely not a typical look for me), I knew that the disrupted sleep meant that it wasn’t likely to be a great day.

But I didn’t expect this.

David Bowie is gone.

I could scarcely wrap my brain around that fact, let alone begin to figure out how to articulate what this means to me, personally. He belonged to the world, certainly, and his legacy lives on in a body of work that is staggering in its diversity and genius. But. He was such a force and presence in my life… I wasn’t sure what to do with this information.

Drinking the first of what would be many coffees, I opened the facebook to a message from the Incomparable Len- the truest Bowie fan that I know (perhaps the truest Bowie fan there is)- just as the CBC told me the same thing. I had to stay off the social media all day – again – this time because I just couldn’t handle all the notices and reminiscences and tributes that are happening, everywhere.

I spent much of the day doing my very best not to cry. Which I managed by not acknowledging that he is gone. Once home, whilst I threw together some dinner, the nightly news kept trying to disabuse me of that little bit of denial. Like the rest of the world, I’ve had to realize that it’s time to face the sad music and let him go.

I’ve written about him a number of times before – generally in passing – when something he wrote, or said, or performed, could express what I was getting at better than I ever could. He was such an ubiquitous influence in my life – and in the lives of my generation and those immediately before and all those after (whether they know it or not) – that little pieces of him creep into the everyday without real notice or acknowledgement.

I really never thought he would die.

The surprise is, in and of itself, a mark of the man and his absolute class. Unlike other ‘celebrities’ these days, David was an intensely private person, living large in the spotlight while in character (whichever character was of the moment), but holding tight to the reins of his real life- with his wife and his family and friendships.

Friday was his 69th birthday- and the release date of his new album, Blackstar, a project that seemed to belie any indication that the fact that he has kept out of the spotlight completely for many months meant that he was struggling with health issues. I first heard the title song a number of weeks ago and, watching the video, I admit to feeling unsettled by the underlying message and imagery. He had a habit of being ‘unsettling’.

Since Friday, ‘Blackstar’ and the second single from the album, ‘Lazarus’, have become all the more poignant, since it seems that the album was intended as his final farewell to this world- and all who loved him. Even his death was art of a spectacularly high form.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

No one was more innovative and inclusive and inspirational than Bowie. No one. He transcended genre and gender and sexuality – while bringing those things to the forefront of important discussions and helping to change the way we view them all. He ripped us out of the ignorance and puritanical biases of the past – often without us realizing he was doing so. His genial intelligence and quick wit and charm distracted us from feeling too much pain from our extraction out of nonsensical previously-held mores.

He was part of the landscape- and frequent contributor to the soundtrack- of my entire life.

As a teenager: on a bus in Pushkin, outside of Leningrad (as it was called then- St. Petersburg in these post-Soviet Union days), listening to ‘Suffragette City’ while sharing earphones with my BFF. Which meant that only one of us could hear the ‘hey mans’. David accompanied us on the tour of Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace museum- with its Amber Room (at that time pre-reconstruction), and was as much a part of my remembrance of that day as were the artistic and historical wonders of the place.

When I first discovered Anne Rice’s vampires (also while a teenager), Lestat looked a whole lot like David in my imagination (never that Cruise guy. Nope. NEVER. And that Pitt guy as Louis?!?! Yeah, no. Worst casting of any movie ever. But I digress…). When I read her now, still, that Brat Prince looks more Jareth (oh how I loved him in Labyrinth. Muppets and Bowie together. Perfection) than Rutger Hauer (Anne’s imagining) or Stuart Townsend (better casting – an unfortunately terrible movie, though).

In my twenties I wrote a long, self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness piece of drivel (it haunts me to this day) called ‘Talking to Ziggy’- about the ongoing conversation between a young, struggling woman and the realized ‘ghost’ of Ziggy Stardust (what happens to fictional characters when they are no longer needed? Do they become ghosts, like humans are supposed to do? It was, in some ways, delving into similar themes as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – although he did it much better. Speaking of Neil… he posted this lovely piece – a short story in his latest collection, Trigger Warning – that he calls ‘fan fiction’. Beautiful- and further evidence of the reality that David touched so many of us in so many ways…). Looking back at it now (I pull it out every now and again to assure myself that my writing has improved), I realize that – purplish prose and young-adult angst aside – I can’t under-emphasize the place that guy holds in my heart.

I could go on (and on, and on) about specific experiences that call him to mind, and how his songs take me back to places and times that grow farther away from my immediate recall as I grow older. I won’t, though. I’m still sorting through a lot of them and some ain’t so easy to revisit.

Suffice it to say that he was the person I spoke with when I felt no one else was listening. He was also the one I listened to – and discussed things with – working through questions and crises with the voice in my head that was oh-so-familiar from his songs, his films, his interviews (with the release of Let’s Dance he was ever-present in the beginnings of MTV and MuchMusic). I felt like I knew him. And I never had a doubt that he knew me.

He did so much. His spheres of art and influence were so vast that it makes the rest of us (read: me) feel like incredible slackers. His being was a kick in pants. To get moving. To turn and face the strange and effect changes to things that need changing.

When I’m not paying attention (or focused on something else – my job, for instance), I can slip back into the denial that was my initial coping mechanism upon hearing the news. It’s hard to face a world without him. If I could’ve believed immortality of anyone, it’d have to be David. He was somehow completely human and otherworldly, simultaneously.

The ‘fictional-something’ I’ve been working on forever deals with, in part, ideas of immortality – how we play with the concept, and those things we do to make it happen – in some form – since true, physical, immortality isn’t something to which we humans can aspire (at this time, anyway. Who knows what the more scientifically-inclined might come up with in the future…). Since I’ve been trying to hold to my determination to actually finish the thing this year, it’s a theme that’s uppermost in my thoughts lately.

There’s a lot of talk today about his last song, ‘Lazarus’, and its foreshadowing of his death. It shares its title with play he co-wrote, currently playing in New York. The play is based on The Man who Fell to Earth (David starred in the 1976 film, based on the novel by Walter Tevis) – with its themes of redemption and salvation.

Lazarus was, of course, a mythological figure – the guy that Jesus brought back to life after he had been dead for four days. He was a harbinger of something even greater to come (Jesus’ own resurrection) and the symbol of the defeat of that most indefatigable enemy of humanity: death.

David didn’t seem all that concerned about much outside of THIS life, though. The papers today are talking about his fight to live – to conquer the cancer that was taking him from his wife and young daughter while continuing to create and send messages to all those who have paid attention to what he has had to say for so many years. The use of Lazarus as a character in his swansong(s) is symbolic in its entirety. David understood metaphor and the importance of mythology.

I started this blog as a way of discussing our myths (it’s right there ^^^ in the tagline) and their enduring importance in our shared humanity, and discovered (quite quickly) that our stories and our music, when they’re at their best, come from the same place.

If any one person lived the truth of that with his entire being it was David Bowie. The characters he created, the personas he assumed and cast-off, the ideals and concerns and wonders he expressed, the everyday events in the lives of the ‘normal’ and the not-so-normal people he encountered… all these things have become part of our mythology.

He did that.

He was an exemplar for so much that is good and important.

He altered our perceptions of ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ and ‘acceptable’.

He turned taboos/’traditions’ on their heads and made us see their inherent inequity and ridiculousness.

He let us all know that our feelings of lack of belonging – as if we are aliens on our own planet/outcasts in our society – aren’t terribly unique or all that concerning, in the grander scheme of things.

He made us embrace the strange.

He led us new places, and foresaw the changes that would shape new generations.

He warned against inaction.

He changed the world.

He contributed to my world in ways I’m still discovering.

‘Pushing thru the market
square
so many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
we had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us
earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse
it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things
to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people’

Whether we have five years, or five hundred years, or five million years, left to us as a species of inhabitants of this world, David reminds us that we need each other – over and above all those other things that are out there.

All loss leads to introspection of some kind. Great loss can lead to great introspection and the finding of new insights. As I turn myself to face me (‘I still don’t know what I was waiting for’ ‘a million dead-end streets’… these lyrics have been hitting me in the heart for months as I figure out what comes next in my own life. Hard to pick one favourite song from amongst the myriad- but right now that’d be it, methinks. ‘Warm impermanence’ indeed.)  – setting aside denial and starting to integrate this great loss – remembered lessons from his body of work will guide (and goad) my future steps. As they always have done.

His last words leave us saddened, yes. Immensely so. But also heartened by the knowledge that he, as Lazarus, was a harbinger of those things that may, yet, come to be realized all over this world – acceptance and light and promise of peace and an understanding of ourselves in all our human variety. His eternal wisdom tells us that we need these things in order to live together in this life, on this planet, together. If we act to harmonize all these realities then the inevitability of death might become less fearsome, and our search for routes to immortality – and anachronistic stories about its possibility – less important than living our best lives now.

His final character is that bluebird – flying free with nothing left to lose.

My love and thanks, Starman. Know that your immortality is secure through those many myths you have left behind you. We have been immeasurably enriched by your example.

Increasing the Nones

Since I’ve been short on time and ideas and motivation to engage in the insanity of the world lately, I decided to peruse the drafts folder to see if there might be anything in there that could be polished enough that I’d be okay with it seeing the light of day.

In the course of my usual early morning reading (internet-driven though it may be) I kept coming back to articles about a white, American-born terrorist shooting up a women’s health clinic in which the media/government refused to use the appropriate terminology to describe the act- and the actor. Terror is terror is terror. And terrorists know no colour, nor any one specific, ridiculous and inhuman(e) ideology.

The fact that most of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President of those United States have been unwilling to remotely acknowledge their complicity in this act of terror- what with the recent Anti-Planned Parenthood propaganda campaigns that they have waged- makes me want to bite something. (If you haven’t seen it already, check out Valerie Tarico’s great post about stochastic terrorism).

And then it happened again, today. Another mass shooting in that place that insists on clinging to its might-as-well-be-religious fervor regarding its ‘right’ to have guns. And already we’re being hit with the early talk about ‘mental illness’ rather than acts of terror.

So when I came across this post in the folder, I figured what the hell. Let’s have another chat about putting away all the childish things that accompany blind adherence to misunderstood and misquoted Bronze Age stories and social pre/proscriptions for living. It mightn’t be the most festive of topics, but the irrationality of belief that too-often comes along with the season is sticking in my craw in a particularly offensive manner at the moment. The post’s original iteration dates waaaaaay back to June. Tellingly, I didn’t have to change it much to reflect my horror about the events of today.

Well over six months ago, while running out and about this town of mine (and that little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake- we had a visitor from across the Atlantic and a birthday being celebrated, so there has been much activity around these parts), I happened upon a street performer in the Distillery District. He was here as part of something called ‘Circus North’- and was one among a variety of performers who entertained the crowds on a lovely May day.

This is him: The Fireguy. In addition to the fire tossing and eating and that sort of stuff, he kept up a running dialogue with the crowd- largely tourists- and talked about his Circus-training days. One of his teachers, early on in his juggling career, advised him to choose one thing and learn to do it reallyreally well. Fireguy choose the Devil Sticks, and, after many years of honing his skills, counted himself a master.

The second element of the teaching came into play at that point. If you can learn to do one thing reallyreally well, then you can apply that same ability to learn to do things to other things you might like to get good at. Awesome, if simple, advice.

But it made me think. I’ve been suffering from a complete and total lack of focus lately. It’s been all but impossible to pick a subject and see it through to the end. Which means that my creativity has been somewhat stunted and that I’m not really being all that productive or progressive.

Which isn’t good.

In an attempt to re-focus, I’m going to try to shift things away from the one-note venting I’ve been stuck on in the recent past, and get back to my own, particular way of looking at the world and attempting to affect change through the application of those things I’ve learned reallyreally well.

Upon examination, I’ve realized that the main thing I know reallyreally well, is the thing I’ve spoken about least around here, lately. I’m talking about education the and effective and affective communication of the stories we tell ourselves and others. Caught up in that knowledge is my awareness of the insane level of  access to information that should lead us toward the path that will allow for complete and total secularization as we figure out that those human-constructed stories (and their starring characters) of division- religion, race, ethnicity- mean less-than-nothing when stacked up against our shared humanity and the answers we have figured out for ourselves.

Some of my more recently reblogged posts were prompted by the existence of something called ‘Openly Secular Day’- and were my reiterated shout-outs to the fact that I completely and absolutely KNOW that religion HAS to be removed from the business of politics and governance. The frequently-hypocritical double-speak of those who claim religiosity (of whatever stripe) as the only viable marker and maintainer of ‘ethical behaviour’ has to be shouted down once and for all.

It happened in Ireland in May. In the most wonderfully human way I have seen in a long time. Irish Ex-Pats (Ex-Padraigs?) flocked home to vote ‘yes’ to equality and fairness and the legal acknowledgement that everyone must be afforded the same rights and privileges in a fair and democratic society.

What a thing to behold.

Superstition and prejudice and spurious arguments in favour of ‘tradition’ and unchangeable ‘definitions’ were left in the dust of what is right and what is good. By the PEOPLE. Not as an act of government, but as an emphatic nod towards that which is undeniably the correct direction for the country and its citizens, by its citizens. Not its institutions- and certainly not that one that has held sway over too much policy-making in Ireland for far too long. There are still things that could do with some changing tout de suite, but wow. That was capital-C Cool.

You know what I know a whole lot about? I know that we need to enact similar scenarios whole-scale and worldwide. ASAP.

We need to update our stories and how we see our narratives. You know, those things that we tell ourselves to try to make sense of the often-inexplicable and -troublesome. It is happening- we saw that in Ireland- but those steps forward are also producing resulting inclinations toward extreme steps backward.

A while ago on q (note the move from the capitalized letter to the lower case- marking its new beginning with Shad taking the helm), Greg Proops was talking about his latest project, The Smartest Book in the World. An extension of his popular podcast, the book references all kinds of important information- and talks about why we so often take the easy way out and resort to believing/doing the stupid, rather than making the intelligent choices, or even acknowledging that there is better, more accurate information out there.

“Stupidity,” he says, “continues to be a big seller. It’s easy and it’s fun for people… We have people in this country who want to invade Iran- which is an extraordinary poor idea- and we’re mad at the President for making peace.”

He’s also vocally supportive of equality- and while some of the examples of the anti-women culture we take for granted might seem, to some (small) minds, innocuous, when he, with his comedic voice, points them out the inequity is made laughable in its extremity and has to be disconcerting to even the most delusional proponents of ‘men’s rights’. He believes that the lack of respect and equality afforded women around the world is the cause of all the world’s problems.

Cool. And hard to argue. In fact, one of my big heroes- there ARE still people worthy of the name- Jimmy Carter, has had a whole lot to say on this subject, himself. And he’s dedicating his remaining time to making sure that these issues get addressed.

Greg’s discussion of the Oxford comma? Not so much. I have to disagree with that bit.

Still. So very refreshing to hear any sort of encouragement of things that are smart.

Especially in light of nonsense like this. I know that there are bigger examples of cray-cray out there in this big ol’ world right now, but most of them are just too overwhelming for me to be wrapping my brain around addressing and/or I’m still trying to figure out a way to restructure my discussion of them (that whole C51 debacle, for example) so that I can aid in affecting a better overall outcome.

This one, I can handle. And it’s in keeping with my crusade to stop blaming the devil for all those things to which we refuse to accept our due culpability.

Seriously, Priest-dude? “There is no such thing as ‘innocently playing with demons’.” ?!?!?

Talk about playing to the stupid. And subscribing to the stupid. And demanding that others- over whom you hold some inexplicable influence- adhere to those same values of stupidity.

Fear-mongering. Again. It’s everywhere. If it’s not masses of ‘terrorists-disguised-as-refugees’ that should have us terrified, it’s supernatural beings that are waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children playing with pencils. (I do have to say that I was astonished to learn that any child might be able to access a pencil. I don’t think I’ve bought a pencil in years- and I still tend to write things in longhand- much to the dismay of those who have to decipher my handwriting).

Do I really need to re-rant about the absurdity of externalizing evil as a monster who has set himself against a deity that opts not to defeat said evil, but who would rather let the monster to continue to use his influence and god-given wiles to tempt the creation that the deity claims to love?

Do we really need to be reminded how ludicrous and repugnant it is to frighten children with stories about and threats of eternal damnation if they decide to play a game with pencils and paper? I, for one, am kind of nostalgically pleased to hear that children might be using something other than a tablet or an X-Box or a smartphone as a way to entertain themselves while learning how to play well with others.

Enough with the imaginary boogeymen. There are real ones to spare in this actual plane of existence (apparently in famous Quiverfull families who are given television shows, and people who shoot up concert halls, and women’s health centres, and places offering services to developmentally disabled children…). We needn’t be inventing non-human monsters as warnings. We can do enough damage without ascribed supernatural characteristics.

Propaganda trumping fact- its skillful employment is reaching ever more lofty and ever more dangerous heights.

No more hedging about- trying to sugar-coat reality and mollycoddle those who refuse to let go of the fictional stories that maintain a fictional status quo. It was never ‘better’ than now- unless, as Greg Proops noted, ‘you are a white guy named Gordon’.

I’m not ‘angry’. I’m not ‘militant’. I’m done being ‘reactionary’.

I am fed up, though. And I’m done with letting people get away with using ancient stories and supernatural characters to justify inequity and abuse, while attempting to control the bodies and minds of other people. I’m done up with politicians who uncreate the stories we are being told by those scientists who examine and seek to understand our world as they move forward with their own agendas as means of maintaining control over the credulous population.

I study people- and the stories we tell. There are narratives that should be expressed. Stories needing to be told. I’m not a politician (thank goodness). I’m not interested in the compromise of policy-making and bureaucratic maneouvering required to make things happen on an implementation level. Especially since that level rarely represents the best interests of the people, en masse, who will deal with the implementations once they are enacted.

Lawrence Krauss accepted the Humanist of the Year award earlier this year, and delivered this speech in response. It is one of the most important things I’ve read in a long time.

“I want to argue here that it is possible to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and superstition, and its chokehold on supposed morality. And it is possible to imagine such a future soon. We are never more than a generation away from change. The key is reaching the next generation when they are young… The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything, to not be satisfied with unsubstantiated claims, and to be skeptical of a priori beliefs, either their own, their parents’, or their teachers’.  Encouraging skeptical thinking in this way, as well as directing a process by which questions may be answered—the process of empirical investigation followed by logical reasoning—helps create lifelong learners and citizens who can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.”

Contrary to what some believers- of whatever stripe might say- us atheist-types do not lack meaning and purpose- and we certainly don’t want for moral centres and empathetic understanding of our fellow humans.

Gleb Tsipursky, PhD,  has made this reality a focus of his research- as both an historian and as part of his interest in modernity and popular culture.

“My research, and that of others, illustrates how secularly-oriented societies provide social institutions that offer a source of meaning and purpose. The focus on religion as the primary source of life purpose in the United States is a historical contingency, one that may shift over time. Indeed, there is a growing number of “nones,” people without any religious affiliation in American society, especially among younger adults. Many nones, and especially college aged youth, are seeking for answers to the question of life purpose that do not necessarily include a G/god as part of the equation. Likewise, there are growing numbers of secularly-oriented venues through which they might  find the answers to their questions.”

It’s important to remember that the reality that is the “contingency” of history is also, by definition, the opposite of “inevitability”. In addition to the faulty assertion that the US is a ‘Christian Nation’ (that is pretty clearly against the writings/purposes of the Founding Fathers, the way I read the history) the many contingencies of US history, thus far, have led to the belief that gun ownership is a ‘right’- and something that is to be held to with all the fastness of stubborn, deity-given ideals about freedom.

But the contingencies (those things that are liable to happen as results of what is happening/what has happened) of NOW, in almost-20-freakin-16– are things like education and rational thinking and the ability to collect and widely communicate statistics and other pertinent information and use them all together to further our understanding about things like an individual’s ‘right’ to possess firearms. One of the takeaways we need to absorb from the events of the last couple of weeks? The knowledge that historically out-of-context assertions should not cannot do not take priority over human lives. One person’s perceived right to own a gun is not more important than another person’s life.

We need to change the narratives. Which means knowing the past and seeing how it got us here- to the present- while letting the exigencies of our current societal and political and morally humanistic realities help us to determine appropriate future courses.

We are seeing some positive strides. As I write this, people across my City on the Lake- and across this country that I love- are getting ready to open their homes and hearts to other humans- in defiance of those who would rule by fear and have us continue to view them as ‘other’ and, therefore, dangerous.

The fact that people are collecting resources to help them transition, and planning committees to welcome them with open arms, is far more in keeping with my understanding of what this season is supposed to symbolize. A little different than fighting (literally) for a ‘great deal’ on a piece of merchandise that we’ve been told we HAVE to have. ‘Stupid’ isn’t the only thing we’re continuing to buy. And it’s A LOT different than watching yet another community picking up the pieces after yet another example of ideology-based violence run amok.

If we are going to tell ourselves stories, why can’t they be ones like the first example, rather than the other two?

Being an honest student of humanity, I’m not confident that we can do all that much to further expedite increasing the nones across the world. (Although I sososo sincerely wish that wasn’t the case. But we should, at the least, be leaving the outdated characters of the stories of yore back in the bad old days from whence they came. They have no place in our politics or our human dialectic. We will find answers- better answers- among ourselves, the real live people of this world, to help us respond to our contemporary contingencies and responsibly address the demands of our societies.

Money, power, holy roads
Freedom puts my faith in none of the above

If there’s a time, that we ever see
The nature of life in reality
‘Cause I want to be there
To kick at the answer 

‘The Calliope Crashed to the Ground…’


One of my very best BFFs seemed to be reflecting upon a park in New Jersey last evening, and posted a line from a particular little ditty as her status on the facebook. It got the song running through my head, of course- the super-rhyme-scheme is catchy as all get-out, but the version that popped in there was Manfred Mann’s cover of the tune, rather than Bruce’s original.

Which, while not surprising perhaps, got me thinking some interesting things about creativity and muses and suchlike.

Before she became a brightly-coloured musical instrument (usually associated with circuses) Kalliope/Calliope was the Muse in charge of cool things like epic poetry and eloquence. Capital-M Muses were the Greek goddess-types who provided the inspiration for all those things I like best- art, literature, music, history- you know, those things that we create that connect us as humans.

Shrines to the Muses- museums– are pretty much the closest I tend to get to entering places of worship on anything like a regular basis, and as anything other than a tourist. I like museums. A lot. They are places of reverence, to me. And they feel like home. The Muses are definitely ladies after my own heart- even if I have seen neither hide nor hair of their influence lately.

The Romans picked up on the idea of the daughters of Zeus (the Big Boss) and Mnemosyne (Memory- in goddess form) and assigned them particular roles. Historian that I am, I’ve always been a wee bit partial to Clio (with her scrolls and all), but all props need go to Kalliope for inspiring the epic-ness of Mr. Springsteen’s well-rhymed song.

Kalliope is generally pictured with a writing tablet- reflective of her importance to those who wax poetic- and was called, by peeps as important as Ovid, the Chief of all the Muses. She was mother to Orpheus, and the inspiration and whispering Voice in the night that drove Homer to write a couple of well-known ditties, about a guy named Odysseus and about a conflict in a town called Troy, of his own.

My beloved Dante spoke well of her: But, since I am yours, O sacred Muses, here let dead Poetry rise again, and here let Calliope sound, a moment, accompanying my words with that mode, of which the Pierides felt the power, so that they despaired of pardon…’ (Dante references the first Battle of the Bands- won, natch, by the Muses, who then turned the upstart Thessalonian daughters of King Pieros into magpies for their extraordinary presumption in challenging them to a sing-off. Think Glee/Pitch Perfect, but for keeps).

Kalliope is usually described as the eldest of the sisters- something I know a little something about. She’s also considered the wisest… but I’ll leave that one alone, lest my sibs take offense (Happy Middle Child Day to the mid-sis, BTW. Who knew there was such a thing? I guess I missed the notice while I was busy celebrating International Cat Day on the weekend. We humans are ridiculous sometimes…).

I’ve been more than a little short on the inspiration and harmony lately. I mentioned all that a couple of weeks ago (has it been weeks, already? Time does fly when you’re out of creative juice…), but I have been trying to pay closer attention to the things going around me since then, so I suppose some progress is being made.

Complete aside, but somewhat indicative of my re-engagement with things that matter… we’re in the throes of the longest election campaign in our history (thanks current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister for that ill-use of our taxpayer dollars) and I had the opportunity to challenge my MP- who never did answer my letter (written after receiving the inadequate response I talked about here), inquiring about just what the Hell he was thinking in backing the current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister’s ill-begotten, fear-mongering, Bill C-51- when he knocked on my door a couple of nights ago. More fool him. After the first 10 minutes I’m quite sure he was reallyreally wishing he’d just left the little card without venturing a knock… He has less than 10 weeks to convince me that his party deserves my vote- our convo certainly left me doubtful he’ll be able to do so. We’ll see how that turns out…

I’ve given some thought to sources of inspiration and creativity- and, funnily enough (that interconnection thing again), I flippantly referred to a friend as my (small-m) muse, since he was more than a little responsible for my last post. I used a winky-faced emoticon when I said it, but some emoticons hide truth, sometimes, methinks.

Bruce wrote Blinded by the Light because his record company insisted that Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J, his debut album, needed something a little more single-y, more hit-esque, than the songs he’d already come up with. He wrote the lyrics first- unusual for him- using a rhyming dictionary. The result is pretty damn clever, indeed- especially for someone like me who loves playing around with words and who can recognize mastery of the craft. The language-play is full of images and stories that leap at the listener as the song unfolds, reminiscent of some of Dylan’s coolest poetry-set-to-music.

For all Bruce’s undeniable prowess, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version is better-known -and contains one of the most frequently misheard lyrics of all time. Interesting how certain things translate well, while others can become indecipherable when the origins are messed with. The piano line(s)- and the interlude of Chopsticks– are instantly recognizable.

The steam piano that, with unpleasing sneezing and wheezing, crashed to the ground, is noted for its volume. Powered by steam or compressed air, calliopes were primarily used on riverboats and circus carousels and the music carried for miles, suggesting that listeners should come closer. Check it out. But, since pitch is affected by the steam, they are almost always out-of-tune on the higher register.

So. Loud and off-pitch. And associated with circuses and all the, uh let’s say down-homey, atmosphere that they can conjure. Sort of totally the opposite of that other Kalliope- what with all her wise, grand, poetic harmony… Yet the instrument entices, and encourages, and draws us in, as it rasps across great distances.

My fave lyric from the original doesn’t appear in the single version- or the cover- of the tune:

‘Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card who said, “Do what you like, but don’t do it here”
Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then, boys, you’re on your own”‘

The play on light and darkness, and the implied aversion to creative expression in the person of the police officer, evoke so many cool things that resonate with the paths down which my thoughts have been traveling.

Inspiration can come from any number of sources. I tend to find mine, most often, in other people. With our contemporary state of communication being what it is, social media can be, for all its faults, a sometimes-useful tool to catch up with the important peeps and tap into those things that are driving them forward. Or just keeping them going.

Our muses can be myriad- if we take the time to pay attention. I’ve been bad at that lately. But I’m working on it, and listening to those Voices I love. Even if the things they say are off-hand, or ‘thrown-away’, or representative of nothing more than a current playlist- it’s a pretty fruitful place to start.

As is memory- that Mother of all Muses- perhaps especially when the memories seem to be placeholders of regret. The ‘way back home’ does, at times, require treading in the darkness of night, but we shouldn’t be hanging out there, eschewing the light, for too long.

‘Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Whoa, but mama that’s where the fun is’

What sights does our sun see when it looks down upon its third planet, after all, but the wonder that is us, and all our human potential? Whether it involves cutting loose or revving up (though not, hopefully, ‘wrapping up like a douche.’ Never that…) it’s time to listen to those shooting stars, sitting in sidecars, humming their lunar tunes, and realize that I will, with help, make it all right. And, perhaps, make things all right. Even when those boulders on my shoulder get me feeling older.

Bruce knew what he was talking about. It starts with sticking together and being sources of inspiration and creativity to one another. All runners in the night- chasing our Kalliopes, and calliopes, wherever they may lead.

Everybody has one…

Heavy thoughts on a gorgeous Friday…

It’s been another one of those weeks. Too many things challenging each other for head space for any really coherent insights to take hold and stick around.

My lovely friend Beth started a wonderful discussion this morning over at her blog (go have a look- it’s a great essay https://byrnesbeth.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/psychd/ on the value of perspective and education and lots of other important things…) that has me revisiting some ideas- and some older thoughts I put together and shared ’round these parts.

This was one of the earliest little bits o’something I posted here at colemining. Change up the specifics of the media coverage, and it’s, perhaps, even more applicable today- in light of this week’s events.

The weather is (finally) wonderful here in TO. I have plans to see some super heroes with some super friends. I’m trying hard not to let the evident awareness that we are continuing to choose to leap to conclusions without any examination of fact, or underlying causality, or endemic injustice, lead to irrecoverable despair/apathy.

Same windmills, two plus years on. Hoping to find the wherewithal to keep on tilting.

colemining

Once upon a time there were commentators- people who were paid to explain and offer opinions on newsworthy topics of concern.  They were clearly identified as opinions– and they provided credentials for analysis and acceptance (or rejection) by those reading or watching the editorial.  Last week there was a flood of (justified) criticism of many of the ‘news’ groups covering the trial of accused rapists in an Ohio town.  These commentaries on the commentaries (as opposed to news reporting) are still floating around the interworld, as well as the television, radio and print media.

Since we are losing connections to our myths- and myth making- the dramas of tragic events are being further dramatized- with commentary- and it frightens me a great deal.  People in power- be they politicians, business leaders, religious leaders- have always used the media of the time as a means of control over the population…

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Crafting Love

“In the first days of his bondage he had turned to the gentle churchly faith endeared to him by the naïve trust of his fathers, for thence stretched mystic avenues which seemed to promise escape from life. Only on closer view did he mark the starved fancy and beauty, the stale and prosy triteness, and the owlish gravity and grotesque claims of solid truth which reigned boresomely and overwhelmingly among most of its professors; or feel to the full the awkwardness with which it sought to keep alive as literal fact the outgrown fears and guesses of a primal race confronting the unknown. It wearied Carter to see how solemnly people tried to make earthly reality out of old myths which every step of their boasted science confuted, and this misplaced seriousness killed the attachment he might have kept for the ancient creeds had they been content to offer sonorous rites and emotional outlets in their true guise of eternal fantasy.

But when he came to study those who had thrown off the old myths, he found them even more ugly than those who had not. They did not know that beauty lies in harmony, and that loveliness of life has no standard amidst an aimless cosmos save only its harmony with the dreams and the feelings which have gone before and blindly moulded our little spheres out of the rest of chaos. They did not see that good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole value lies their linkage to what chance made our fathers think and feel, and whose finer details are different for every race and culture. Instead, they are either denied these things altogether or transferred them to the crude, vague instincts which they shared with the beasts and peasants; so that their lives were dragged malodourously out in pain, ugliness and disproportion, yet filled with a ludicrous pride at having escaped from something more unsound than that which still held them. They had traded the false gods of fear and blind piety for those of license and anarchy.

Carter did not taste deeply of these modern freedoms; for their cheapness and squalor sickened a spirit loving beauty alone, while his reason rebelled at the flimsy logic with which their champions tried to gild brute impulse with a sacredness stripped from the idols they had discarded. He saw that most of them, in common with their cast-off preistcraft, could not escape from the delusion that life has a meaning apart from that which men dream into it; and could not lay aside the crude notion of ethics and obligations beyond those of beauty, even when all Nature shrieked of its unconsciousness and impersonal unmorality in the light of their scientific discoveries. Warped and bigoted with preconceived illusions of justice, freedom, and consistency, they cast off the old lore and the old ways with the old beliefs; nor ever stopped to think that that lore and those ways were the sole makers of their present thoughts and judgments, and the sole guides and standards in a meaningless universe without fixed aims or stable points of reference. Having lost these artificial settings, their lives grow void of direction and dramatic interest; till at length they strove to drown their ennui in bustle and pretended usefulness, noise and excitement, barbaric display and animal sensation. When these things palled, disappointed, or grew nauseous through revulsion, they cultivated irony and bitterness, and found fault with the social order. Never could they realize that their brute foundations were as shifting and contradictory as the gods of their elders, and the satisfaction of one moment is the bane of the next. Calm, lasting beauty comes only in dreams, and this solace the world had thrown away when in its worship of the real it threw away the secrets of childhood and innocence.”

From ‘The Silver Key’, by Howard Philips Lovecraft. 1926

Please note the date of composition.

1926.

I’ve been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately. I’m not totally sure why. I did read Stephen King’s latest, Revival, recently, and the novel certainly evoked some Lovecraftian reflections, so that might have something to do with it. I was also fighting a brutal virus of some kind- and when I’m feeling ill and generally down-in-the-dumps, my literary tastes tend toward the gothic for some reason.

I purchased Lovecraft’s collected works for my Kobo for something like $3.00. Canadian dollars. That’s a whole lot o’ lit for not a lot of money. As I’ve been working my way through the collection, a bunch of things have been jumping out at me- like rats from the walls of an antediluvian castle.

First off, the guy LOVED to use and reuse particular turns of phrase and descriptive terminology that is hard to find outside of his work. While I’ve read him before, I have never in-taken so much back-to-back-to-back, as it were, so the repetition is heightened more than it would be if I was taking the stuff in pieces- or according to a logical ordering- which this collection (at least how it appears on my e-Reader) is lacking. If all the Cthulhu stuff and all the Dream Cycle stuff were together as their cohesive-ish wholes, then the recurrence of themes and wordplay may be less jarring. Hard to know. He was a writer of his time- so the somewhat formal and pointedly archaic language is to be expected (as is the racism and classism- although I’d avoided a great deal of the worst of that in past readings).

Nonetheless, I’ve always been interested in the guy- as much for what he influenced as for his creations themselves. The Cthulhu Mythos is pretty damn brilliant when it comes down to it, with its incorporation of mythological themes and responses to the tensions between the realities of scientific and technological advances, and ‘tradition’ and religion.

From the Wikipedia:

Lovecraft himself adopted the stance of atheism early in his life. In 1932 he wrote in a letter to Robert E. Howard: “All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hairsplitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist”.

He got it. I’ll say it again, atheism ain’t some new, dangerous social phenomenon. Old as the hills, it is. Or at least as old as the gods.

Lovecraft was a weird little dude, in many ways. But his influence is undisputed in certain literary circles. Neil Gaimon loves him (and I love Neil Gaimon). As does the aforementioned Mr. King. I have to admit that revisiting his stories has been eye-opening.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had recurring dreams that feature the odd angles and geometry that Lovecraft uses to describe the architecture of the mysterious and forbidden cities of the ancients. So many of these dreams take place in parts of Toronto (the town closest to my heart) but with subtle differences that lend a sinister aura to the dreamscapes.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out for a ramble and come across a building that seems somehow off in real life- since I’m used to seeing it in dreams with its structure somehow altered.

Arguably, the guy has crept into my psyche through the myriad stories his writings influenced and which I read/heard without knowing that they were Lovecraftian in origin. He’s created archetypes that we don’t even acknowledge as being as archetypal as they are.

I have something of a similar relationship with some of Ray Bradbury’s tales. His October Country and Dark Carnival resonate heavily with my childhood memories and, well, things I like. Oddly, perhaps, since I haven’t spent much (any) time in the Midwest of the US.  I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was in Grade 6. It was fall (it might have been October), and the atmosphere of the novel suited the melancholy of the season and set the standard for my love of macabre carnivals (like the ones found in Carnivale and, recently, the Freak Show of the most recent iteration of American Horror Story).

Through Bradbury’s autumnal settings and investigations of the mélange of good and evil found in each of us- and the awareness that self-centered desires are the basis for human malice and unhappiness- his stories teach us that supernatural forces (evil coming from outside- from something that is other than human) are most easily defeated by the most human of tools. Things like sincerity of heart. Things like love. Because those non-human influences are easily dissipated when faced with human strength of character and conviction.

Reminds me of a song…

When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city,
To see a marching band,
He said, Son, when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned,

Sometimes I get the feeling,
She’s watching over me,
And other times I feel like I should go,
And through it all, the rise and fall,
The bodies in the streets,
And when you’re gone we want you all to know,

We’ll carry on, we’ll carry on,
And though you’re dead and gone, believe me,
Your memory will carry on, we’ll carry on,
And in my heart, I can’t contain it,
The anthem won’t explain it,

And while that sends you reeling,
From decimated dreams,
Your misery and hate will kill us all,
So paint it black and take it back,
Let’s shout out loud and clear,
Defiant to the end we hear the call

Many of Bradbury’s tales were published by Arkham House- founded to preserve, in hardcover, Lovecraft’s voluminous fiction.

Like Lovecraft, Bradbury’s imagination influenced those same later writers. Neil’s latest short story collection contains a poetic homage to Ray that highlights his importance to the weird  genre of literature. Something Wicked also greatly impacted the story behind my favourite of his novels -one I used more than once in courses I taught over the years- American Gods.

Ordinary people fighting the influence of supernatural beings- frequently, the gods themselves. Recurrence of theme…

I used Gaimon’s wonderful novel as an illustration of the ways in which we, as humans, make up gods as originators and jurists- and how these creations need us. Without our worship and acknowledgement they fade, or die, or are forced to take jobs as taxi drivers and prostitutes (or, as did my very faves, run a funeral parlour in Cairo, Illinois- not all that far from Bradbury’s native Waukegan, Illinois).

The first time I used American Gods in a classroom setting was for a course called Religion, Illusion and Reality- a survey course describing how we create and study religions. The novel offers a vivid illustration of the fundamental need the gods have for us, their creators, and how they fade as newer gods- those of media, technology and, even, celebrity take focus and worship away from them and cause them to disappear into obscure uselessness.

I love this theme. And it runs through all this weird fiction. Those things to which we stop paying attention draw back into the abyss of imagination where they were created- but remain dormant yet dangerous, waiting for the opportunity to influence the credulous among us and regain their power over those seeking to gratify the self above all. It is there that the weird gods find their acolytes.

This worldview hearkens back to that whole order vs. chaos dichotomy I’ve talked about before. Back to the beginnings- to our creative origins as we developed written language and began to institutionalize our attempts at explaining the unexplainable.

Rather than looking to the knowledge we’ve gained, we’re allowing the long-buried Cthulu-types to reassert their hold over our intelligence and call to us from the sunken depths or distant stars to which they had been banished by the light of humanity.

Prompted by a recent post by my friend Audrey, I’ve picked up some of Algernon Blackwood’s short fictions as well. Lord Dunsany is next. Perhaps by delving into these writers who recognize the dangers posed by those gods (and religions) we create, I’ll gain some perspective on why we are letting ourselves be drawn irretrievably back into the dark ages of credulity and superstition.

Creepy stories about weird gods are fantastic for fireside tale-telling, or while curled up in a blanket with a dram of something warming while the unseasonably cold winds from the Great Lake seep through the glass of a modern condominium building (that will be the remainder of my evening, I think).

They don’t belong in our schools or our places of work. Or in our governments and the policies they institute- on behalf of all of us.

If we’re going to insist upon such a return to darkness in our daily lives and overarching culture, why not go all the way?

Or 2015- for those of us here in Canada…

Baphomet. (And Bono)

Search terms. I don’t know much about SEOs and the like. Those sorts of emails/’comments’ that thinly disguise advertisements for companies that do know all about such things end up in the spam folder and are all deleted. I have written about a few peculiarities that have popped up now and again, but I’m kinda wondering what’s up with people right now. Every day for the past week or more, the same search term keeps on showing up on the stats page.

It’s there again today. Twice.

I did write about Baphomet- in a particular context- not all that long ago. So okay. Fair enough. The search engine brings people- who happen to be looking for the guy- here. But it seems like a whole lot of people are looking for info about a 14th century construct lately.

Weird.

Perhaps that damned movie about a fictional code was on tv again.

While we were visiting Scotland I insisted that we pay a visit to that little chapel that shows up at the end of the damned movie (and the even more damned book that inspired the damned movie).

Small (okay, LARGE) aside- in case some of you might be wondering why I am so against Dan Brown and That Damned Book (TDB, from now on)…

1) he ripped off the idea from a bunch of ‘journalists’ who came up with the (fictional) story without any level of thought about actual historical veracity;

2) the writing is pretty much uniformly bad, but the ending is just plain terrible;

3) TDB is so filled with scientific and historical inaccuracies that I just can’t even…,

4) it has fed the never-ending and voracious appetites of conspiracy idiots across the globe (who certainly needed no new fodder);

and

5) his main character is a professor in an academic discipline that doesn’t exist. Semiotics is an academic discipline. Symbology is not. Semioticians study signs and symbols as elements of communication and behaviour, focusing on the relationship of the signifier and the signified, using linguistics and psychology to identify the ways in which symbols are used to construct meaning. Symbologists study nothing. Because they don’t exist.

Oh. And also because TDB was turned into TDM, and, as a result, I actually hated a movie that starred Tom Hanks. Which is terrible. Because Tom Hanks is lovely.

Admittedly, it did bring a number of people to my classrooms over the years. Either because they were looking for evidence that the RC Church hadn’t lied to them all these years, or because they thought that an examination of the non-canonical Xian writings would demonstrate that TDB was right all along. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to set minds at ease in the first group (the Church has told more than its fair share of lies) and the primary sources and historical evidence we have does not, in any way, point to anything in TDB being at all accurate. Historically speaking.

End rant.

So.  You could ask, legitimately, why would I want to visit Rosslyn Chapel – just outside of Edinburgh- if I loathe TDB/M so much?

Well. Quite simply because it’s beyond lovely and the story of the Chapel and its restoration is way more interesting than anything a hack novelist could dream up.

I loved it there. At the end of a long day touring some of Scotland’s most historic sites- Bannockburn and Stirling Castle were just two of the stops- we were coping with a fair bit of history overload (yes, it can happen. Even to me) when we arrived at Rosslyn. The site, for all its historical value, overwhelms with its beauty and the intricacy of the carvings, yet is a place that lends itself to quiet reflection.

And, since I do like the actual history of groups like the Masons, the Chapel provides some interesting evidence of the traditions and symbols associated with that storied Brotherhood. I bought a matted rubbing of some of the Masonic symbols that are found in the Chapel, as a matter of fact (have yet to get it framed. Which, since I had to go looking for a stock photo of the Chapel because I haven’t started sorting through the photos we took, isn’t really all that surprising).

As we sat in the Chapel, listening to the guide talk a bit about its history, its resident cat, William, popped in to say hello to everyone. He made straight for my lap (as is generally the case with most small creatures. I tend to attract animals), and was a purring mass of black and white fur who enhanced the story we were being told immensely. Nothing like a lap full of cat and a good story. If I’d had a Scotch in hand, it would have been pretty much perfect.

The guide noted that the Chapel had fallen into disrepair after centuries of neglect, but was gradually undergoing some restoration work when TDB was released. That August, the Chapel received more visitors than they had in the entirety of any previous year. Since there was only one washroom available on the site, this proved more than a little problematic. And Dan Brown’s fans continued to descend en masse to discover the secret of the Code for themselves.

The influx of Seekers of the Holy Grail facilitated the building of a beautiful Visitors’ Centre (complete with washrooms, cafe and gift shop- where you can buy Scotch, bottled especially for Rosslyn as a means of raising funds for its on-going restoration- although they frown on you drinking it in the Chapel) with all kinds of cool interactive displays that talk about the carvings and the (family) history of its construction.

The release of TDM brought even more visitors to the site- again, a good thing from a heritage preservation perspective. The guide told us a few tales of memorable visitors- those convinced that Elvis lay in the inaccessible vault beneath the Chapel, those convinced of the existence of the Sang Real, and those who thought they might catch a glimpse of Tom Hanks.

And then there were the crazy people…

One of the things that most resonated with me as we traveled the highways and byways of Scotland, in the company of fantastic storytellers with an impressive knowledge of history, was the fact that so much of it is continually being re- and/or over-written. This was made clear as crystal by the unanimous expression of disdain for one film in particular- one that starred a too-short Australian, dressed in anachronistic belted plaid, while painted (also anachronistically) with woad. I’ll refrain from mentioning the bit about the affair with Isabella of France (who was only three at the time of the events portrayed in the film). Oops. Guess I just did.

I haven’t seen Braveheart in its entirety. Never really interested me- especially since I read about the glaring inaccuracies fairly early on. I’m not all that fond of the Aussie-in-question (although, while I’m not much into the post-apocalyptic genre, Mad Max did have its moments. And I liked the first Lethal Weapon film. Nothing after that, though), so I wasn’t in a rush to witness his particular brand of over-acting.

I was quite surprised at the vehemence with which our guides emphasized the wrongness of the film’s presentation of its hero. William Wallace is very important to the Scots- and messing with his story is problematic. To say the least. They still talk of his murder (and they consider it murder, not execution) as if it happened recently, rather than in the 13th century.

We humans revise and review and revisit history all the time. Our stories are re-written and re-presented in different forms. The best stories hold up in the face of reworking and redaction because their themes and characters speak to something that is universal.

But, all too often, we do so at our peril.

Am I being pedantic when I complain about the ridiculousness found in TDB? Probably. A lot of people like the story, and found some level of entertainment in it. And, after all, Dan Brown never claimed that the story was non-fiction. Those conspiracy fans who make such claims do so of their own accord.

But. The subject matter at the source of his fiction, for all that it is, itself, fictional, has loomed fairly largely in my life. I’ve spent a lot of time with the texts- primary, secondary and tertiary, in my adult life. So the fact that people are willing to accept the further fictionalization of the myths, and reinterpretation of the symbols and metaphors they were meant to illustrate, as TRUE just bugs me. For the same reasons that any sort of unexamined credulity makes me crazy.

And now I’m ranting again.

What does any of this have to do with a search engine term that keeps bringing people here to visit? Some of you (assuming you’ve stuck around this long) are probably thinking (not without cause) that I’ve gotten totally lost in a complete derailment of my train of thought, but there is a connection. I swear.

You see, poor old Baphomet is the exemplar of this sort of thing. He is a construct that originated out of torture designed to garner confessions from a group of monks that had become a bit too rich and too powerful for the comfort of the King. And the Pope (although the Vatican now says that the persecution was ‘unjust’, and that Clement V was ‘forced into it’ by King Philip IV).

As they were tortured, some of the falsely arrested Knights confessed to the worship of some sort of heathen idol- variously described as a severed head, a head with three faces, and a cat. Until the persecution of the Templars, no one had heard of Baphomet. He arose out of the stories that were told about the perceived crimes of the Knights of the Temple.

Created. Whole cloth. As an instrument of condemnation of a group that was causing the powers-that-be some difficulties. Various theories as to the origins of his name- and of the demon/idol himself- proliferated as the centuries passed. His existence was back-dated for veracity.

With the 18th century rise of Freemasonry, Masonic leaders sought connections to heroes of the past, as they sought to create their own mythologized history. They connected the Masons to the Templars and then, going back even further, to some of my beloved Gnostic-types.

It’s all pseudo-history of the worst possible kind.

Dan Brown is far from the first person to cash in on the credulity that such unexamined claims can foster, if not cause outright. Eliphas Lévi drew a picture (literally) of Baphomet that served to secure a place for his image in Western minds for subsequent generations.

This is him. According to an occultist with a really good imagination.

 Aleister Crowley liked Baphomet (and Eliphas Lévi) a fair bit. He is generally considered to be one of the minions of Hell (Baphomet, not Eliphas)- if not the Devil Dude himself. Some Xian evangelist-types suggest that Masons, today, still worship that particular demon.

All this notoriety. From a singular mention in the writings of a chronicler of the First Crusade- suggesting that those they fought against called upon him as they attempted to hold the city against the Crusading Xians.

Baphomet is demonstrative of what can, and does, happen when myths (and mythological characters) are cited outside of their originating context. The stories go through a process akin to Broken Telephone- with the elements of the narrative losing all connection to their original, metaphorical or symbolic purposes.

As we add details and creatively expand upon sparse references, the innocuous can become monstrous. Such is the power of story– in the hands of people who have a way with words and the construction of lasting images.

When taken as entertainment- or as a potential source of universal truths/common sense- such stories serve to unite us as human beings. We all love a good story.

Stories become dangerous their authors purport to tell truths to which they cannot, legitimately, lay claim. Or when the credulous among us (an ever-growing crowd) decide to infer truths underlying the fiction.

Baphoment is a poster-child for this phenomenon. I’d like to think that that’s the reason so many people seem to be looking for information about him here in the interworld.

Given the stuff that I see in the media on a daily basis, I’m not naive enough to really subscribe to that particular conceit.

People are searching for information about him because they believe, however foolishly, in his existence as a manifestation/personification of evil that exists in the real world.

‘Don’t believe what you hear
Don’t believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy…

And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
’cause I need it now…

And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down’

Bono has said that the song is largely about examining his own hypocrisy. It’s about having high standards for other people, and yet not living according to those standards. Wrapped up in the clearly-communicated anger and contempt is a message to continue onward in the face of overwhelming opposition.

So, despite the constant stream of evidence that supports the supposition that we are increasingly swayed by ancient superstition and reactionary rhetoric as we are subsumed by state-sanctioned credulity, I, like Bono- and Baphomet- shall persist. In living life at the standard which I expect from others, while attempting to spread my message regarding required examination and understanding of our history- literary and otherwise. With all its revisions and redactions.

Rant over. For real, this time.

Angels and Demons

As sometimes happens, when a story attracts the attention of a nation (believe me, I’m not delusional enough to think that our little ‘local’ problem with a national radio host is making much of a ripple elsewhere in the world- that would involve far more Cansplaining than is warranted), it serves as the catalyst for a whole lot of discussion about things outside of the primary issue.

That has certainly been the case this week. There is just so much about this thing in the press. There are reasons for this- he IS a well-known figure in our particular cultural microcosm, and an accomplished broadcaster to boot. But setting him aside completely, a dialogue has been started that shines light on the fact that the greater, by far, percentage of women who are sexually assaulted never report the crimes.

In Canada.

Where we have freedoms and opportunities and equality that can’t even be imagined too many places elsewhere in the world.

I’ve read a fair number of the articles and opinions being published about the situation- and they are myriad (journos have been staggered by these accusations leveled at ‘one of their own’)- because they are contributing to necessary dialogue about such issues. And, when well-presented, they are educating us about the reality that this imbalance of power yet exists and permeates our culture.

So it’s a personal issue for me. It speaks to my own experience and the experience of others I know and love.

There have also been a number of discussions about the narcissism that also permeates out culture (something that I find deeply disturbing and have written about before)- and projections that pathological Narcissistic Personality Disorder is at the heart of this situation. Impossible to tell- from a distance, and without legitimate professional assessment- but, once again, it is bringing discussions of mental illness into the forefront of our awareness.

There’s another personal element at play here too- my deep and abiding love of the CBC and the continuing assertion that it is an important institution. Anything that shakes that place to its core is going to get me talking.

The best thing I read this week on that topic (one of the best things I read all week, full stop) came from Michael Enright, another old favourite of mine. He addresses both of the issues with which I have a personal investment- violence against women and the integrity- moral and journalistic- of the CBC. Voices like his are the reason we need to fight to maintain our national broadcaster.

But I’m also interested for purely academic reasons. I talk a whole lot here about my issues with the separation into black and white- sourced in outdated Bronze Age concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’- as defined by social codes for behaviour that are, often, not remotely culturally or morally relevant in the 21st century.

(There are exceptions, of course. The one about not murdering other people? THAT one should certainly be upheld. The ones based in common sense and true morality? Those I don’t have a problem with. It’s the ones that were designed solely for the purpose of keeping a particular tribal organization of people specifically tribally organized… a lot of those need to be left in the annals of history, where they belong).

I hate this dichotomization. Good/Evil. Us/Them. It’s all about division when we NEED to be talking about union.

One of the week’s articles referenced this, in passing. But it’s a point that I think needs a little more emphasis.

Although I approached the topic differently and named it with other names, yesterday’s post was, in part, about the ‘Halo Effect’ that Dan Gardner talks about. We love the guy, he’s great at his job, and, as such, he can’t possibly be guilty.

Likewise, when we label people with the ‘Devil Effect’, we see nothing but evil. By removing the humanity– that admixture of nature and nurture that makes up each and every one of our personalities- we are saying that we are statically categorized. Once placed in a box there is no possibility of movement.

Which is ludicrous.

And worse, it feeds the sort of power-driven insanity that leads people in power to state that we needn’t be looking for the societal origins of anomie (or discontent and disconnection) that leads to us branding people as belonging on one-or-the-other side of a coin of extremes.

We need to change our language. I keep harping on this, I know. We have to remove apocalyptic thinking from our shared worldview (which is a discussion for another day) and we need to stop the dichotomizing. To do so, we need to examine the myths that created the language, and exorcize those that have no place in our current temporal, moral and communal reality.

I’ve never considered myself a vehement atheist (although I am a vehement humanist). I certainly don’t count myself among the screaming crowd of the New Atheists who deride and castigate those who are believers at every possible turn. I’m all about the ‘live and let live’. And I know- because I have spent my adult life studying the phenomenon- the importance of religion in human life and the reasons why we create and cling to gods.

But. I’m tired. Very tired.

Of playing devil’s advocate (although I will continue to Advocate for the Devil- that guy needs some serious PR) for those who hold to belief- especially (although not exclusively) unexamined belief- as a way to justify the unjustifiable and to maintain a status quo that should have been eradicated generations ago.

I am finding it harder and harder to comprehend educated, reasoning human beings who cling to myths that originated in such a different time and place that there can be no social comparison in the face of evidence that proves- unequivocally- that they are not history. That they are human-created stories that answered the questions that plagued the human experience. Even though we have, now, answered those questions in other, demonstrable and evidence-based, ways.

The events of the past two weeks- both the tragic and the (melo)dramatic- in my Home and Native Land can have extremely positive repercussions- if we choose to address them in the ways they should be addressed. With critical, in-credulous focus on the hearts of the matters at hand.

Without divisive rhetoric that polarizes the issue and hearkens back to an era of superstition and suspicion.

My Canadian-ness is an ever-present facet of my personality- both the nature and the nurture of it. I love Canada (although Scotland was pretty cool, too). My cultural identity is solidly Canadian (except the liking hockey part). We have had a lot with which to contend, over the past few weeks, and, for the most part, we have done so admirably and with the dignity and thoughtfulness with which we generally view the world.

This song has been running through my head today.

Although
I speak in tongues of men and angels
I’m just soundin’ brass and tinklin’ cymbals
Without love

Love suffers long, love is kind
Enduring all things, hopin’ all things
Love has no evil in mind

As a child, I spoke as a child
I thought and I understood as a child
But when I became a woman I put away childish things
And began to see through a glass darkly

Joni is another of our National Treasures. Interestingly, Jian’s interview with her was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on Q.

But it’s time to put away childish things- and childish ways of seeing the world as either this or that. ‘Halo Effect’ and ‘Devil Effect’. Angels and Demons. More than just a poorly-written (if bestselling) thriller. It’s a dangerous metaphor that keeps us locked in archaic mythological ways of viewing the world.

Please. Stop. Just stop.

Let something positive come out of all the events of the last weeks. We are talking- let’s keep those discussions from devolving and referencing outdated ideals of polarization sourced in stories- and values- of old.

P.S. I realized- after some additional reflection- that this post may make it seem as if I find no value at all in these myths of ours. This is, of course, not the case. I love our stories- I started this blog as a means of communicating my belief in the power of our myths. If you have spent any time here, you have to acknowledge the truth of that.

What has to cease is our insistence on clinging to them as anything other than metaphor and attempts to make sense of the world with the wisdom we had at the time they were created. There is wisdom to be found- but there is also much that is dangerous- in light of the strides we have made in understanding our universe with the tools we continue to develop. I’m terrified that we are slipping back into believing the ‘truth’ behind the tales and missing the underlying messages of humanity as we fight about the existence of one or another god- and the varied interpretations of what those gods allegedly had to tell us.

It might be a fine line- but it’s one that is clear in my understanding of the world.

Feet of Clay

Since, lately, I’ve been dragged in every direction but this little space of the blogosphere, and in keeping with the recycling of older posts as a way of letting peeps know that I’m still around, I reblogged- weeks ago now, it seems- a little bit o’ something about some of the cool things that can be found in the OT Book of Daniel.

At that time, after reading my discussion about disembodied hands and holy graffiti, my blogging buddy Daniel (pay him a visit- you won’t be disappointed) put in a request for some more stuff about the madness of the dream of old Nebuchadnezzar. So, because I always try to accommodate interesting requests, and because I love saying the name Nebuchadnezzar, but mostly because that book about that guy Daniel (the biblical one) is full of  resonant language and enduring concepts, I am happy to oblige.

Interestingly, I didn’t have to wait long for one of those of those images to resonate with contemporary events. And it’s Hallowe’en, so a discussion about a mythological nightmare seems pretty apt…

I don’t usually pay all that much attention to the search terms that bring people to visit me here in my WordPress World. Really, I’m just happy to have people visit and for the chats that might ensue as a result. Every once in a while they sort of jump out at me, though.  Doobster reminded me of this over at his blog, not long ago.

My favourite still has to be about exorcising Pazuzu. I remain at a loss as to who might be looking to get rid of Mesopotamian demons, and I wish them well in that particular research, since I’m pretty sure that my blog post wouldn’t have been much help in that department. (Another of my recent faves asks: ‘is Don Henley a Xian’? Which is interesting. Since I don’t actually know the answer, and wouldn’t presume to ask him, since it matters to me not a whit. He’s awesome, regardless of religious background or belief).

A couple of days ago a search term popped into my settings profile that was timely and somewhat distressing. Just to make sure it wasn’t a weird anomaly, I googled it myself and, sure enough, I was directed here.

Looking at it closely, I realized that the reason the post came up in the search was due to to the proximity of the word ‘dated’ (which I was using as an adjective to mean ‘provided with a date’ with the implication that said date was long ago and that I am, in fact, old) with a reference to his name (not that common) as I described scenes from his recent book.

Contrary to the search term’s implication, I did NOT date Jian.

If you do a search on that selection of words (‘I dated Jian’) ALL kinds of other things will now come up far far ahead of my little post about a trip to the cottage over a year ago. He’s all over the news. Everywhere. He’s knocked our former mayor and the defeat of his brother (Praise Odin and the gods of Valhalla) out of all media coverage. New scandals await our insatiable appetite for the lurid. We are all talking about him- and lines are being drawn all over the place.

Know what? He is a creepy guy. He’s always been a creepy guy. This isn’t news to anyone. Especially not to anyone who has had even passing acquaintance with the tinytiny world that is the Canadian media.

What IS news is that he seems to be more than just creepy. If the women who have come forward since he released his PR-company-driven attempt at playing the victim came out on Sunday are to believed (and why shouldn’t they be believed?), he has a whole lot of issues. A need to exert dominance by beating unwilling women appears to be one of them.

There’s a lot of talk about this going on everywhere. The social media are overwhelmed with the discussions/arguments/attacks about this. Two sides to all stories and that sort of thing. There are experts weighing in- those intimately familiar with BDSM and the negotiated rules that are required to make such relationships work, and legal experts- citing case law that says that assault isn’t something for which people can grant permission, are but a few of the voices we’ve been hearing since Sunday night.

‘Abuse is abuse’, they say. ‘They’ include some who consider the guy in question a friend. Yesterday morning, on The Current, CBC featured an extremely well-put-together interview with one of the accusers- one who wasn’t intimated by the power play and who isn’t afraid of the back-lash that might come from stepping forward to make her voice heard (many kudos to K and the team for an amazing presentation).

By last evening, another woman had come forward, identifying herself and making her accusations- and her reasons for not going to the authorities with the events she recounted- clear. Brave women- speaking on behalf of themselves and those who feel they cannot. For whatever reason (and those reasons are, unfortunately, myriad).

It would hope that it’s obvious on which side of this story I can be found. Abuse of power (abuse of any kind) is not something that is remotely acceptable in my way of viewing the world. Ego (especially when its completely out of proportion to reality) as a primary personality trait is dangerous and something about which to be greatly concerned when it is made manifest- in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. No matter how much I might enjoy a radio programme.

The fact that people- across the country- immediately leapt to defend the guy says a whole lot about us and the irrational attachments we build with people in the spotlight. And none of what it says is good. Especially since said messages of defence involved few cautions about waiting to hear the whole story. Instead, there was a shocking degree of shameful victim blaming. I saw a bunch of reallyreally bad language being thrown around. And I’m not talking about the sort with four letters.

I’m talking about words like ‘vindictive’ and ‘jilted’ and ‘attention seeking’ and ‘gold-digging’. As people high-jumped to conclusions with an alacrity that is pretty damn stomach turning.

Voices of reason stepped in- to rationally discuss the reasons why liking/admiring a radio host does not automatically make him exempt from having done terrible things, to address the common charge that none of these women filed police reports about the incidents, to inform us about some of the realities of being a woman in our society that many people would rather leave under the rugs where they’ve been swept.

The CBC will survive (provided the leader of Harper’s Conservatives and culturally ignorant individuals (no names mentioned *cough* Christie Blatchford) don’t get their way). I’m old enough to remember the national sense of loss that we felt when Peter Gzowski, long-time host of Morningside, one of CBC’s most distinctive voices, and true National Treasure, died in 2002. His vision continued. In many ways, Jian is one of the heirs of his legacy- and of Peter’s lifelong attempts to identify and express Canada’s cultural identity.

But he’s only one of the heirs. And, really, not necessarily even the best of them (I should note here- for the record- that I’ve always been partial to Strombo).

As guest host Brent Bambury said so eloquently on Monday- while introducing a show that was profoundly under the microscope and likely facing irrevocable change- Q is more than one person. Much more. There are dozens of people who work to make the show what it is. They are still there. And will be, as long as there are listeners who appreciate what Q continues to be about.

Which is a lot of things. The variety, the diversity of subjects and perspectives on art and culture and politics and society is something that has kept me engaged with and enjoying the show for many years.

What it isn’t about, shouldn’t be about, is a cult of personality, created by one individual, that has led to people believing his press releases (figurative and realized), without reflection or analysis, and to blind, reactionary responses that are stomach-turning and, frankly, un-Canadian.

Just last week (was it over a week ago already?) I went on and on and on, to anyone who would listen, about the class with which the CBC (and Peter Mansbridge, in particular) handled the day-long coverage of the terrible events, as they happened, in Ottawa. The difference between that coverage and anything comparable that one might witness on the 24-hour-a-days ‘news’ channels in the US, was a sizable gulf- a fact that gives me great pride.

Which is why the trolls and the misogynists and those who just can’t simply wrap their brains (such as they are) around the potentiality of wrong-doing on the part of a ‘celebrity’ because, well, he’s a celebrity– who is, admittedly, great at his job- makes me want to bite something. But they know him. He’s ‘part of their lives’. And loving/revering/worshiping a public figure means giving them the benefit of every possible doubt. Evidently.

My fave Babylonian king (you know his name. Say it- ‘Nebuchadnezzar’) once had a dream that both baffled and disturbed him. None of his own courtiers or wiseguys were able to interpret the dream for him- since doing so required the input of the gods.  And they didn’t seem to be forthcoming with any guidance- much to the distress of the wiseguys. Distress that grew, quite significantly, when it became clear that Neb was going to execute the bunch of them for their inability to help him sort it all out.

As they were being rounded up (as I re-read the passage I had an image of the Brute Squad clearing out the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride, for some reason), Daniel asked the Captain of the Guard what was up with all this. Once answered, Daniel then asked Arioch to hold off on the whole executing-the-wiseguys thing, and to give him some time to figure out the troublesome nightmare.

Granted the time, Daniel and his Judean buds prayed to their god for mercy, and the meaning of Neb’s dream was revealed to them. Daniel was taken to the king and recounted it fully, before beginning his interpretation- which, he noted, he was able to do because of the guidance of his god. Who was better than Neb’s gods. Just a BTW.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt of a great figure- with a head made of gold, upper body of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. A stone- uncut by human hands- came along and smashed the feet of clay, causing the entirety to topple and shatter- with the precious metals being blown away by the winds, as the stone became a mountain which then filled the whole Earth.

Daniel tells Neb that he, the king, is the head of gold. He has been given his dominion by god and is great among men, in his power and glory. After his time, another kingdom will arise- one inferior to his. And then another. And another. Then will arise a kingdom that is divided- and the weakness caused by this division will lead to its downfall- by another kingdom, established by god, that will smash all the others to bits.

Neb was so happy to have his dream interpreted, he made Daniel his chief wiseguy and lavished rewards upon him and his friends (Daniel wasn’t one to forget his buddies…).

There are all kinds of interpretations of this dream and its interpretation. The separate sections of the figure are generally thought to represent specific nations- Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as one example- and, as such, is more of the same sort of social commentary you find throughout the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

But… as is often the case with such things, strong mythological images develop nuances of their own outside of the context of their creation.

‘Feet of clay’ is colloquially used to reference a character flaw- usually one that is pretty darn significant. The fragility of the feet- the flaw- caused by the hubris or ego of the figure- endangers the whole. Up to and including it’s wondrous head of gold. The (self-) perceived beauty and wisdom and charisma cannot remain standing under its own weight when any sort of stone shows up to smash into that problematic and fragile underpinning.

We invest so much in our public figures- in those personalities who keep us entertained or informed, or those who seek to lead us in our day-to-day lives. When their clay feet are (often inevitably) revealed, we tend to react with either 1) hostile doubt and by lashing out at those stony accusers who dare to imply anything less than golden about the figurehead they love, or 2) with knowing self-assurance that the idol was always destined to be toppled from his lofty height.

Those who make of themselves a cult of personality do so at their own risk. We like them, until we are presented with reasons to despise them- or their behaviours. But sometimes we cling to the illusion, regardless of the weight of evidence, and maintain the defence long past all logic or rationale (I could cite another recent example having something to do with our recent Municipal election, but I’m too pleased by the overall outcome to harp on the idiocy of the remnants of Ford Nation…), hoping that the object of reverence will remember the loyalty when returned to power.

I actually hated this song when it came out. Although, really, that largely had to do with the fact that one of my uni housemates played it All. The. Time. (Until Fletch stormed downstairs and turfed it far out into the snow of the backyard, that is. I think I need to buy him a drink in remembered thankfulness for that…). I’m still not sure I like the song all that much, but its lyrics stand up as well today as they did back in 1988.

Neon lights, Nobel Prize
When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You won’t have to follow me
Only you can set me free

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your god’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality

And that title.

The song is about psychology and politics. And ‘cult’ is a loaded term that is, generally (i.e not academically), used negatively. A cult of personality happens when a person uses things like the media to construct an idealized image. It is based in charismatic authority and has connections with narcissistic leadership.

So. If the shoe fits…

Perhaps it can be used to cover up those fragile tootsies.

The hand, writing on the wall

Hello there strangers… Been a while…

Between the extended recovery time that followed an awesome holiday (more on that to come), and a laptop that is down (and pretty much out- hoping to find a replacement this weekend) for the count, logging blogging time has been a little tricky of late.

So… again with the reblog.

While away, I had the opportunity to take in the British Museum and to hang out with a whole bunch of ancient things and peeps I’d been reading about for decades. They have an outstanding collection from Mesopotamia and Assyria, and visiting my ancient friends called this post to mind.

We are less than two weeks from a very important municipal election here in TO- one that I referenced way back when I originally wrote the post. The circumstances have changed a little- our current ‘mayor’ is unable to run again, so his brother has stepped in to drive the Ford Nation bus in its headlong rush to oblivion. If the rhetoric- from all three ‘viable’ candidates- since my return is any indication, I’m not sure that this election will institute the sea-change that is required to get this town onto the necessary footing to remedy the missteps that have been the norm for the past number of years, and to move forward with making the city livable and workable in the future. Sigh.

So… Let this be a reiteration of my Mene Mene. Positive forward momentum, while looking backwards and acknowledging our mistakes. THESE are the things that need addressing. Let’s DO this thing, TO.

colemining

The Hebrew Scriptures have some pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines.  I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the focus of my doctoral thesis- and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory.  I’ve neglected the Egyptians and Mesopotamians a bit lately- after teaching about them for a few years running and visiting with them at the ROM on a weekly basis we all needed some time apart.

The NT and I remain estranged- there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis…

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